First Degree Burn

Written by Brindles Lee Macon | Published on July 25, 2012
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD

Overview

A first-degree burn (also called a superficial burn or wound) is an injury that affects the first layer of your skin. First-degree burns are one of the mildest forms of skin injuries, and they usually do not require medical treatment. However, some superficial burns can be quite large or painful and may require a trip to a doctor.

What Causes a First-Degree Burn and What Can I Do to Prevent It?

Most first-degree burns can be prevented if you take the right precautions. Below are some common causes of superficial burns:

Sunburn

Sunburn develops when you stay out in the sun too long and do not apply sufficient sunscreen. The sun produces intense ultraviolet (UV) rays that can penetrate the outer layer of your skin and cause it to redden, blister, and peel.

You can help prevent this from happening by wearing broad-spectrum sunscreen or sunblock with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher.

Scalds

Scalds are a common cause of first-degree burns to children, typically those under age 4. Hot liquid spilled from a pot on the stove or the steam emitted from hot liquid may cause burns to the hands, face, and body. Keep hot cooking pots on the back burners with the handles turned toward the center of the stovetop to prevent accidents. Also, be sure to watch young children in the kitchen.

Scalds can also occur if you bathe or shower in extremely hot water. According to the New York State Consumer Protection Board, a safe water temperature should be at or below 120 degrees F. Temperatures higher than this can lead to more serious skin injuries, especially in young children. Most makers of water heaters sell their products with a maximum 140 degrees F setting; you can manually reset your hot water tank to have a maximum of 120 degrees F to avoid burns.

Electricity

Electrical sockets, electrical cords, and appliances can appear intriguing to an unsuspecting child, but they pose considerable dangers. If you child sticks a finger (or any object) into the openings of a socket, bites on an electrical cord, or plays with an appliance, he or she can get burned and/or electrocuted from exposure to electricity. You can prevent accidents by covering all exposed electrical sockets in your home with childproof covers, unplugging appliances not in use, and placing cords where your child cannot reach them.

What Are the Symptoms of a First-Degree Burn and How Long Do They Last?

The symptoms of first-degree burns are often minor and tend to go away after a few days. The most common things you may notice at first are skin redness, pain, and swelling. The pain and swelling may be mild and, after a day or so, your skin may start to peel.

For a first-degree burn that occurs in larger areas of your skin, you may experience an increased level of pain and swelling. You may want to report large wounds to your doctor. Larger burns may not heal as fast as smaller burns.

An Important Note About Electrical Burns

This type of first-degree burn may affect more of the skin beneath the top layer than you can see. It is a good idea to seek medical treatment as a precaution immediately after the accident occurs.

Should I Seek Treatment for a First-Degree Burn?

You can treat most first-degree burns at home. However, if your child receives a burn and you are concerned, you might want to speak with a doctor. The doctor will most likely examine the burn to see if it has become severe.

He or she will look at the burn to see:

  • how deep it penetrates the skin’s layers
  • if it is large or in an area that requires immediate treatment (eye, nose, mouth)
  • if it shows signs of infection (oozes pus or is extremely swollen)

You should definitely see a doctor if your burn becomes infected, swollen, or extremely painful. Burns on the face, groin, hands, or feet may require a visit to the doctor. These burns may heal slower than burns on other areas of the body.

Home Care Treatment

If you choose to treat your wound at home, place a cool compress over it to relieve the pain and swelling. You may do this for five to 15 minutes and then remove the compress. Avoid using ice or extremely cold compresses because they can aggravate the burn.

Avoid applying any type of oil, including butter, to a burn. These oils prevent healing in the site. On the other hand, products containing aloe vera may help relieve the pain.

How Long Does It Take to Heal?

Your skin may peel in the area as it heals. Additionally, it may take three to 20 days for a first-degree burn to heal properly. Healing time may depend on the area affected. Always consult your doctor if the burn shows signs of infection or becomes worse.

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